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Arthur Koestler

A look back at one of the pioneering researchers into coincidence and parapsychology

This year sees the centenary of the birth of writer, political and scientific commentator – and student of the paranormal – Arthur Koestler, and also the 20th anniversary of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit endowed by him at Edinburgh University, recently thrown into crisis by the untimely death of Koestler Professor Bob Morris.

Paul Devereux takes advantage of this confluence of commemorations to assess the current status of the field.

Arthur Koestler was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 5 September 1905. He studied science and psychology at the University of Vienna, but left before taking his degree. He went on to become a freelance journalist, working in Germany and France. Koestler covered the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent for the London News Chronicle, but was captured by Franco’s Fascist Nationalist forces in 1937. He was imprisoned in Seville under sentence of death.

Koestler was eventually released, thanks to the machinations of the British Foreign Office. In 1940 he was again arrested, this time in Occupied France by the Vichy government. He managed to flee to England, joining the Army’s Pioneer Corps, working for the BBC and becoming a British citizen in 1945.

Of Koestler’s many books, his powerfully anti-Communist novel Darkness at Noon (1941) is still the most famous, but he wrote one book that focused squarely on the paranormal – The Roots of Coincidence (1972). Here, he attempts to find a basis for paranormal events in coincidence, or more precisely synchronicity, so that there is only one phenomenon to explain rather than many. He proceeds to seek the roots of coincidence in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of quantum physics, the infinitesimally small subatomic realm where our everyday logic no longer holds sway, where particles can be waves and vice versa, where forces that only mathematical equations can glimpse swim in the dark, unfathomable ocean of probability before the manifestation of either matter or mind. Towards the end of the book, Koestler pleads that parapsychology be made “academically respectable and attractive to students”, otherwise the “limitations of our biological equipment may condemn us to the role of Peeping Toms at the keyhole of eternity”.

Koestler’s quiet interest in the paranormal probably stemmed from a mystical experience he had at the age of 14. Other such mystical moments befell him at various points in his life, including one in his Spanish death cell. There, he recalls in The Invisible Writing (1954), he underwent an experience in which he felt as if he were floating on “a river of peace, under bridges of silence”. Eventually, “there was no river and no I”; there was a sense of dissolution and of limitless expansion. Coming back to his grim reality was “like waking up from anæsthesia”.

Sometimes, lesser phenomena would also impinge upon him. On one occasion, a highly-strung friend told him “something is going to happen”, moments before a large picture fell from a wall. Koestler was intrigued to note that the hooks remained in the wall and the picture-wire was unbroken. He compared this incident to the two unexplained loud reports that emanated from a bookcase when Jung and Freud were having a heated discussion – Jung predicted the second bang shortly before it occurred. (See David Sutton, “The black tide of mud…” FT171:46)

The young Koestler occasionally evinced more than a passive interest in psi phenomena. (See “What is parapsychology?”) At the age of 26, for instance, he advertised in a newspaper for “authentic reports on occult experiences – telepathy, clairvoyance, levitation, etc.”. It seems he was disappointed with the response.

Koestler was also intrigued by coincidences. One case he describes in The Invisible Writing (1954) involved a mentally disturbed friend, Attila Jozsef, who one day tried to kill himself by lying down on a railway track hoping to be run over by a goods train that passed through the village every day at a given hour. On this occasion, though, the train did not come and Jozsef had to give up the suicide attempt. It transpired that the train was delayed because it had run over someone else further up the track.

In keeping with someone who could write that “the new frontiers to be conquered are mainly in the convolutions of the cortex”, Koestler briefly experimented with mind-altering drugs like LSD, although he concluded that “chemically induced hallucinations, delusions and raptures” were not much more than “confidence tricks played on one’s own nervous system.”

In 1952, he joined the Society for Psychical Research (SPR); but he generally kept his interest in the paranormal at a fairly low profile. Thus, the appearance of The Roots of Coincidence came as a shock to many people, some of whom didn’t like Koestler dabbling in this subject area; they liked it even less when he started up the KIB Foundation in the 1970s in order to conduct psychic research.

Beyond the Bounds of Orthodoxy

The KIB Foundation (its name taken from the surname initials of its founders: Koestler, author and journalist Brian Inglis and financier Tony Bloomfield) existed for roughly eight years from its inception to Koestler’s death in 1983, whereupon it became simply the Koestler Foundation. Ruth Tudge (née West), who was deeply involved in the Foundation’s activities, recalls that Koestler framed its mission as “to promote research in areas that lie beyond the bounds of scientific orthodoxy”.

Koestler’s particular psi interest was levitation and that became the Foundation’s main focus. Its historical research revealed reported instances of levitation involving religious ecstatics and Tibetan monks, as well as other controversial claims such as those concerning the Victorian medium, DD Home. In one case in 1868, Home levitated in front of three witnesses, becoming curiously “elongated” in the process, and later appeared to float upright outside of a third floor window. William Crookes, a celebrated scientist of his day and a president of the SPR (FT179:30-37), became convinced of Home’s authenticity. Though numerous critics scorned Home, he was never discredited.

Koestler’s idea was to use biofeedback techniques to induce subjects to lessen their body weight by small amounts, measurable by a “levitation machine”. So a platform (essentially a very sensitive weighing machine) was constructed, on which the subject would sit while any tiny fluctuations in weight would be picked up by an arrangement of springs beneath the platform and printed out on a chart recorder. This did not entirely please Koestler, who felt that a subject would respond better to feedback presented in a vivid pictorial manner. It became one of Ruth’s tasks to work with subjects to overcome this deficiency by helping them become relaxed and directly involved with the rather dryly presented feedback.

Various subjects came forward – including slimmers, as Ruth recalls. “They mistook the experiment as a form of weight-loss exercise!” she explains. Others included Transcendental Meditation (TM) practitioners, who claimed to be able to perform TM levitation (one of the most skilled of these was a Nobel prize-winning physicist who Ruth prefers not to name). These subjects revealed a fatal flaw with the levitation machine: they would sit cross-legged on the platform then suddenly move upwards into the air, a disturbance causing the spring arrangement to become unstable, making precise measurements impossible. So the levitation research programme ended without producing any clear conclusions.

Levity took other forms within KIB – the founders promised themselves not to take things too seriously all the time, and merry levitation and spoon-bending parties were held at Koestler’s home. But all too soon the party came to an end.

The Final Curtain

Koestler campaigned for a number of causes, among them the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. It is therefore not surprising that he decided to take his own life after he had suffered for some years with two incurable conditions. A note, “To Whom it May Concern”, that he wrote nine months before his suicide shows that it was a carefully planned act. On 3 March, 1983, the 77-year-old Koestler was found dead at his London home from a drugs overdose. Koestler’s 55-year-old wife, Cynthia, was lying dead in the house too. It had been a double suicide.

In his pre-prepared suicide note Koestler stated he had “timid hopes for a depersonalised after-life beyond the confines of space, time and matter and beyond the limits of our comprehension”.

At the Koestlers’ joint funeral and memorial service, Ruth Tudge remembers, Arthur’s paranormal interests were downplayed. But he was to have the last laugh: both he and Cynthia had left almost their entire estates for the endowment of a chair of parapsychology at a British university, or to support research fellowships in parapsychology if a chair could not be established. Whichever should be the case, the money was to be used for “parapsychology and parapsychology alone”.

The Trojan Horse

As an executor of the Koestler will, it became psychologist John Beloff’s responsibility to find an academic institution prepared “to admit Koestler’s Trojan horse into its citadel” (Encounter, 1983). It proved a tricky task.

Cambridge and Oxford declined, as did King’s and City Colleges in London and the University of Wales. In the end, Beloff found a home for the endowment at Edinburgh University, where he himself worked within the psychology department . Beloff had supervised a number of PhD students in parapsychological topics there since 1963 and reckoned this had “inoculated the university against the worst fears” of the subject. American parapsychologist Bob Morris was selected from a shortlist of nine people to be the first Koestler Professor, and the Koestler Parapsychology Unit (KPU) was embedded in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences. Over a decade after their deaths, the Koestlers’ Trojan horse had finally been wheeled inside the walls of academe.

The Psi-Seeding of Academe

It is said that the best spies wear grey suits, and this metaphor could have described Bob Morris. He felt the Koestlers would have wanted the occupant of the chair to be an investigator, not an advocate. Arriving at Edinburgh in September 1985, Morris went on to steer the KPU on a careful scientific course that kept the academic waters calm.

Experimental protocols, and even the physical layout at the KPU, were designed to minimise potential procedural flaws. Even stage magicians were consulted to help guard against trickery. Between 1993 and 2003, six out of nine major experimental studies produced statistically significant results. When asked directly if he personally believed in telepathy, Morris replied that he just did the research – but added that there was accumulating evidence indicating that it does occur. “We are perhaps studying nature, but in its fuller form,” he suggested.

And then, in the late summer of 2004, Bob Morris went and died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly.

At a memorial conference for Bob Morris held in London in April 2005, by the Society for Psychical Research, Professor Bernard Carr, a past president of the SPR, reported that Morris had supervised 32 PhD students in parapsychology, 12 of whom have gone on to obtain permanent academic positions in university departments. Indeed, many of Morris’s former students now have their own PhD students, Carr went on, so his total academic progeny now exceeds 40. (see obit, FT192:26-27.)

Carr informed us that there are currently 10 university departments in the UK where parapsychology is pursued. “This is an important development, because it means that parapsychological research is no longer dependent upon the whims of private benefactors,” he pointed out. “This contrasts with the situation in the United States, where very few PhDs have been awarded and consequently even the most active parapsychologists can find their careers curtailed when their benefactors die or lose interest in the subject.”

So, Arthur Koestler’s desire, articulated in The Roots of Coincidence, that parapsychology be made “academically respectable and attractive to students” has essentially been fulfilled. But would he be happy with the current situation within parapsychology? Might his shade yet be restless?

Taking Stock

The paradox that was Arthur Koestler could, on the one hand – and as many who knew him have testified – erupt emotionally and lose his temper, yet on the other be scientifically minded and hard-headed. 2 So, he wanted parapsychology to be careful and precise, while arguing that feeling and meaning were equally important components of the overall psi phenomenon. Would he have thought that contemporary parapsychology was missing something? We will never know, but the centenary of Koestler’s birth and the 20th anniversary of the KPU – compounded by the death of Bob Morris – prompt some sort of stocktaking.

So we have canvassed the views of a representative sample of researchers as to where they feel the subject area is currently positioned.

As will be seen, the results of this unique spot-check shows that opinion appears to break down into three broad categories: those who feel that psi probably exists and that current university-based research should continue, those who feel psychic research encompasses more than laboratory-based parapsychology, and those who have come to the conclusion that psi phenomena probably do not exist. Let’s listen more closely, though, for there are varying shades of emphasis within these main groups.

The Good News is the Data

We selected four representatives of the first camp. The first is Dr Richard Broughton, who many years ago was the second of John Beloff’s students at Edinburgh to gain a PhD. He is now in the Psychology Division of University College Northampton, which has had an active parapsychology research programme for some years. Author of Parapsychology: The Controversial Science (1991), he is one of a number of American parapsychologists now working in the UK.

Broughton claims that parapsychology actually has a better record of repeatable experimenters than experiments, and feels that might be explained by the idea that brain activity in human beings is essentially random. He explains further: “It has become apparent over many years of parapsychological research that there’s something about human consciousness, particularly noticeable in microPK, that can bias the outcome of probabilities in random processes. Could it be that effective subjects in psi experiments are biological random generators rather than gifted psychics?”

If so, Broughton reasons, an enthusiastic, motivated experimenter may get similar results as he or she would with a Random Event Generator (REG) machine.

“Parapsychology has not properly addressed this issue of the experimenter effect,” he comments. “Psi may be happening where parapsychologists aren’t really looking.”

Professor Bernard Carr, based at Queen Mary College, University of London, acknowledges that there is still academic antipathy towards parapsychology. He feels that psychical research should have connections with other disciplines besides psychology (as did Bob Morris), particularly physics, which is his own field.

“The connection with physics is especially important because, if psi is real, it implies that there is a direct interaction between consciousness and the physical world,” Carr points out. “Although some individual physicists are interested in psychical research, there are no UK physics departments where research in the area is tolerated.”

Professor John Poynton, the current SPR president, likewise feels that it will take “a revolutionary stream of physics” to settle the psi matter, rather than an endless collection of facts from parapsychology.

Professor Robert Jahn, an applied physicist and aerospace engineer (your actual rocket scientist, in fact), has long been concerned with studying “direct interaction between consciousness and the physical world”. His Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory, managed by psychologist and parapsychologist Brenda Dunne at Princeton University in New Jersey, is well known for its decades of research into microPK through testing the apparent interaction between human subjects and REG devices. The PEAR lab has built ingenious forms of REG-powered experiments, such as water fountains, drum machines and much else to make sessions as interesting as possible for subjects – something Koestler would have approved of. They have also produced portable REG devices that can be used in the real world beyond the laboratory. The statistical output of the PEAR lab from all this work has been prodigious, and it seems to show a significant effect; it is low-level and its exact provenance has not been established to everyone’s satisfaction, but it’s there.

“After 20 to 30 years, where we come out is this: there’s just no doubt that psi phenomena are real; the body of empirical evidence is totally insurmountable,” Jahn says in a distinctively laconic style. “That said, it is equally clear that whatever these phenomena are they are not going to play by traditional scientific rules.”

Jahn echoes Broughton when he says that while the psi effect doesn’t seem to care much about distance, time, or even what the specific experiments are, what does turn up is a battery of subject correlates: the intention of the operator, the needs of the individual, the ambience of the experiment – even such things as the requisite uncertainty in the whole process. Overly tight rigour seems to suffocate psi phenomena, Jahn observes. “They emerge in situations where uncertainty runs high. You’d better have some randomicity in there if you are going to manifest the effects.”
This sets parapsychology apart from conventional scientific dogma, Jahn agrees, but feels that what parapsychology is dealing with is the “second half of human experience”. He therefore seeks a new science of the subjective.

A frequently expressed view is that even if psi is real, its effects are so small and so unreliable it isn’t worth bothering with, but Jahn reminds us that quantum science and general relativity have shown that equally elusive effects can have monumental importance both in science and public applications and benefits.

After decades of research, the PEAR lab – at least in its present form – will soon be closing. Jahn fears that benefactor funding in the States is polarising between support of scientific brain research and New Age agendas, leaving parapsychological research programmes high and dry.

Dr Dean Radin, Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California (founded by former NASA astronaut Ed Mitchell), is more upbeat about the future of parapsychology.

“I regularly get two to three calls a month from mainstream scientists who are interested in psi,” he reports. “The academic taboo against openly expressing interest in psi is still quite strong, but I see a growing restlessness that will eventually break the taboo.” This doesn’t mean that suddenly all academics will believe in psi, Radin clarifies, rather that there’s a fresh sense of open-minded curiosity that’s been stimulated by the substantial empirical database on psi amassed over the past century, as laid out in his book, The Conscious Universe (1997).

Radin feels it is easy to become pessimistic about the state of psi research if we’re not looking at the wider picture: “From my perspective, big things are happening, but it hasn’t affected most psi researchers directly. Yet.”

Marilyn Schiltz, the Institute’s Vice President for Research and Education, while disappointed by the contraction of research opportunities, particularly in the US, remains similarly upbeat about the future: “I find myself with a resounding sense of optimism and appreciation for what this field has to offer to our understanding of consciousness, the mind/matter interface, and the potential application to healing. There are scores of highly qualified people in major institutions – the invisible college -– who are impressed by work in this field and who are potenially interested in getting involved. They are a new life-line to the future of parapsychology… ideas from our century-old labours are finding their place in serious conversations among mainstream scientists. While we have not yet cracked the nut of the replicable experiment, the data clearly support the value of our efforts to understand more about the nature of human possibility and the potential reach of consciousness.”

Beyond the Laboratory

The second group contains those who make distinctions between university-based parapsychology and the broader context of psychical research.

Long-time psychic researcher and SPR member, Guy Lyon Playfair, author of many books including This House is Haunted: Investigation of the Enfield Poltergeist (1980) and Twin Telepathy (2003), is characteristically blunt in his views. “Koestler would have been as bored as I have been by yet another meta-analysis, paranormal belief scale or conference presentation of yet another negative psi result, the sole purpose of which is to inflate researchers’ CVs,” he grumps. “Academic parapsychology on the whole isn’t going anywhere. Researchers have been coming up with the results for years, but sceptics will always say there are flaws in the methodology – there’s nothing else they can say and still justify their sceptical position.”

Dr Adrian Parker, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, holds similar views. He was the first PhD psychology student to emerge from Beloff’s supervision at Edinburgh, and is well known for his ganzfeld work. “I am not that impressed by the 12 or 14 universities said to be doing parapsychology in the UK,” he declares. “This is just a political figure, good to cite.”

He laments the tactics used by some parapsychologists who call what they do “anomaly research”. In his opinion, this fools no one. “If there is to be a name change, let us go back to psychical research,” he advises. He feels there is a great gap between university attitudes towards parapsychology and the public and media interest in the area.

Parker and Playfair both single out biologist and author Rupert Sheldrake (pictured left) as a researcher who is attempting to put psychical research back in the hands of the people.

Sheldrake acknowledges that academic parapsychological research is in a healthier state in Britain than in North America, but warns that there is still a strong prejudice against parapsychology “by card-carrying sceptics who are usually not genuine sceptics at all, but defenders of a materialist ideology or world-view”. Nevertheless, like Radin, he has found that “many people within the scientific community are reasonably open-minded but need to see good evidence”. But as Parker and Playfair indicate, university-based parapsychology is not where Sheldrake’s primary research interests lie.

“My own approach differs in that I carry out field-based studies and try to relate them to the natural history of psychic phenomena,” Sheldrake explains. “For example, telepathy seems to be a normal means of animal communication, and I have done much work on telepathy in animals, summarised in my book Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. Human telepathy follows the same principles as animal telepathy, namely that it occurs primarily between individuals who are closely bonded.” (See also FT37:4–21; 98:48; 101:37-39)

Sheldrake claims that the commonest kind of human telepathy in the modern world happens in connection with telephone calls and he has been doing extensive research on this with highly statistically significant positive results. This is summarised in his most recent book The Sense of Being Stared At, and Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. “I now have online telepathy tests in which anyone can participate, and I would be glad if FT readers would try the test for themselves,” he urges. “This would both enable them to find out how telepathic they are and also contribute to my research.” He points out that the experiment is free, involves two other people, and takes less than 15 minutes. (Anyone who would like to try it should log on to www.sheldrake.org.)

Both Parker and Playfair express concern about the paucity of research funding. Outside of the Koestler bequest, the only other major endowment parapsychologists can appeal to in Britain is the Perrott-Warrick Fund, administered by Trinity College, Cambridge. Playfair reminds us that this was intended by its founders to stimulate psychical research rather than academic parapsychology, and in his view the Perrott-Warrick funding has too often gone to academic researchers he feels are sceptics. There was good news in July of this year, though, in that Rupert Sheldrake has been given the Perrott-Warrick award.

Does Psi Exist?

Then there are those who think psi phenomena probably do not occur at all. Some of these sceptics are so vehement it seems to neutral onlookers that their real agenda is to convince themselves of this view, so for more worthy representatives of this third broad category of opinion we canvassed three people who at least have extensive experimental research experience to their credit.

Susan Blackmore (pictured right) obtained her PhD in parapsychology from the University of Sussex in 1980, and is now a freelance author and Visiting Lecturer at the University of the West of England. She no longer works on the paranormal. “After 25 years as a parapsychologist, setting out as a total believer and ending up sceptical, I no longer felt that more research would be worthwhile,” she explains.

Blackmore is nevertheless pleased to see that parapsychology carries on because “if I’m wrong, and there are any paranormal phenomena, their discovery would be extremely important for science.” As it stands, though, she feels that parapsychology is limping along with few resources and few researchers. She suspects it will stay this way because, in the end, “parapsychology is searching for things that do not exist”.

Richard Wiseman, a former KPU postgraduate and now a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Hertfordshire (and, it has to be said, a rather skilled exponent of the art of self-publicity – he seems to be the British media’s favourite psi spokesman) doesn’t dismiss the possibility that psi exists, but on the whole seems to doubt it. In 1999, he and Julie Milton conducted a “meta-analysis” of 30 autoganzfeld studies and found that when their results were looked at collectively they were not better than chance. (However, Milton has stated that if ganzfeld studies conducted since the meta-analysis were added, the overall psi-effect would achieve statistical significance.)

If you are a believer in psi, your problem is whether the thing you’re studying exists or not,” he observes. “ If it does, you’re on your way to the next Nobel prize. But if it doesn’t, what do you do? It’s very difficult to justify your position as a psychic researcher if people aren’t psychic.”

A particularly balanced sceptic is Professor Christopher French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) at Goldsmiths College in south London. He accepts that there is prejudice against even the possibility of psi on the part of the wider scientific community, and concedes that parapsychologists have made real progress since the mid-1970s in terms of methodological sophistication.

“I think that there are signs that more moderate sceptics acknowledge that some of the results produced cannot easily be dismissed or explained away,” French says. But he counsels that all scientific data is a mixture of signal plus noise and that in parapsychology we may be dealing with nothing but noise. Only time will tell.

The Jury Is Still Out

That there still remains such a range of opinion about psi must have Koestler twitching – if there is an after-life. As it stands, academic parapsychologists and resourceful independent researchers like Sheldrake have undoubtedly raised the bar that out-and-out sceptics need to jump. While it cannot be claimed that the evidence for psi is as yet unassailable, it seems too extreme to insist that psi does not exist.

Total scepticism becomes even more difficult to maintain when one moves from academe to everyday life. Many people can recall at least one instance of what they believe was probably a paranormal experience. For instance, the present writer had a Scottish acquaintance who started having dreams of his dead grandfather. In each dream, the grandfather displayed a sheet of paper with a word written on it. The Scotsman soon realised these were the names of racehorses. He began placing bets and won every time. He told his workmates and they also won every time – to the point that the local turf accountant banned them all. Inquiry by the writer confirmed that this tale was true.

Such anecdotes produced by the Great Unwashed naturally cut no ice with sceptical scientists or even academic parapsychologists, though one physicist confided in this writer that he had developed a system of precognition that helped fund a particular research programme to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars!

It may well be that all that is claimed as psi is not psi. The out-of-body experience, for instance, is almost certainly an altered state of consciousness rather than the literal flight of the spirit from the body – though it is still an intriguing phenomenon. Poltergeists could result from human interaction with electrical or magnetic fields. And apparitions may not be the spirits of the dead but complex hallucinations. For instance, where do ghost’s clothes come from? And what about spectral coaches, cars, or houses? (Such hallucinations of course beg deep explanations as to why they are place-related.) Parapsychology may only yet be at the stage of sifting what has been swept under the psi carpet.

The Roots of Psi?

If something we call psi does exist, where might the final proof for it be found? As we have seen, some commentators feel that quantum physics might eventually provide the answer, as Koestler himself predicted. What quantum boffins call “entanglement”, for example, is when two distant, matched electrons can instantaneously pass information (such as the direction of their spin) one to another, as if in a tiny display of telepathy; before entanglement was proven experimentally, a sceptical Einstein referred to it as “spooky action at a distance”. Entanglement is already being suggested as an explanatory model for the effects of an extraordinary device developed in the laboratories of Michael Persinger (see FT42:50-54) at Laurentian University in Ontario. Nicknamed the “Octopus”, it consists of a band of solenoids connected to a computer. This band is placed around the subject’s head and a programmed pattern of circumcerebral magnetic fields is played around the skull. When he tried it, the present writer found he was able to identify a photograph – without any obvious communication – that someone else was looking at in another room.

Particularly interesting was the way the remote information was “received”: it was a non-visual impression that had to be deciphered by the logical, linguistic part of the brain. When a psychologist colleague of the writer’s later tested the device at his request, the same positive results were obtained – she described the nature of the received information as being “aconceptual”.

This device should be headline news, or, at the very least, a wild card to play in the argument about the existence of psi, yet the writer has been unable to seriously interest parapsychologists let alone sceptics in this instrument. Perhaps there is too much protected personal territory at stake all round.

Who’s that Sitting in my Chair?

The death of Bob Morris has created something of a crisis for the ongoing Koestler project. What happens to the KPU now? Who will take over its leadership? Some researchers fear the chair will go to a psi sceptic rather than an experienced, open-minded psi researcher. That would mean the effective end of the Koestler experiment. But, as we go to press, Caroline Watt, acting head of the KPU, sounds more hopeful. She informed FT that what is being planned is to offer the post of Koestler Professor together with two new posts – a Readership and a Lectureship. All the posts will be for psychologists, but only those with expertise in parapsychology or anomalous psychology. The posts are likely to be advertised this autumn; if so, and if the candidates prove appropriate, the new posts will be taken up in the New Year (2006). The current staff at the KPU are not having their short-term contracts renewed, but they are being encouraged to apply for the new posts when advertised.

We will have to see what transpires. Watch this space… Somewhere out there, “beyond the confines of space, time and matter”, perhaps Arthur Koestler will be keeping an eye on proceedings too.

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Arthur Koestler
Arthur Koestler
The medium DDHome levitating in front of witnesses during an 1868 séance. It was said on this occasion that Home became curiously “elongated” as he rose into the air. Shortly afterwards, he appeared to float upright outside a third floor window. Home had his detractors, but was never discredited.  Image: Fortean Picture Library
  Arthur Koestler
The bust of Arthur Koestler formerly on display in the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University. Image: Gordon Rutter
  Arthur Koestler
Rupert Sheldrake
Rupert Sheldrake
  Bob Morris
The late Bob Morris, the first Koestler Professor, photographed in 2003. Image: Paul Devereux
  Paul Devereux
Allowing himself to be photographed like this only in the interests of science , Paul Devereux tries out a prototype of the ‘Octopus’ device in Professor Michael Persinger’s laboratories in Laurentian University, Ontario. Could the Octopus be a ‘wild card’ in the debate about the existence of psi?
A subject tries out the KIB Foundation’s levitation platform. Koestler is visible in the background. Image: Fortean Picture Library
  Professor Bernard Carr
Professor Bernard Carr, past president of the SPR. Image: Paul Devereux
Susan Blackmore
Susan Blackmore
  Koestler Parapsychology Unit
The Koestler Parapsychology Unit in the Department of Psychology, Edinburgh University. Image: Gordon Rutter
Author Biography
Paul Devereux’s latest book, Fairy Paths ' Spirit Roads (2003), dealt with pre-modern folk geography of supposed spirit routes. He is currently working on a proposed book comparing parapsychology in the West with anthropological observations of paranormal phenomena in tribal societies.


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